Wisdom, no extra charge
Most of my work has to do with reading and writing. Read, read, read; write, write, write; all day long. About 20 percent of the time, I stand up in front of a group and talk, but the job is mostly about the written word. Then there's my internet hobby -- more of the same. When I take a break from all that, I don't find myself reading a book for pleasure as much as I probably should.
Lately when I do get around to recreational reading, I've been consuming books written by people I know. My current read was penned by my friend and multi-talented colleague, Ron Lansing. It's called "Nimrod," and it's written around the capture and trial of Oregon's first accused murderer, a crusty, old, early Willamette Valley settler by the name of Nimrod O'Kelly.
Now, right off the bat, the title of the book is going to cause a few titters. I had a California-born-and-raised girlfriend for a short while some years ago. She spoke fluent Valley Girl, and she was always calling some person she thought was stupid a "nimrod." I think the dictionary definition is "hunter," but not in her dictionary. (As I recall, she might also brand a slow person as a "nimbus.")
Anyway, once you get past the title (if you need to), Lansing's history of the O'Kelly affair is quite interesting. Picture a western Oregon that was just being settled, in 1852, only about a decade after the very first wagon made it over the Rockies and out to Oregon territory. Everything was being done by the seat of the pants, including law and criminal justice. And old Nimrod was quite the character, having made it over the divide, hopping from wagon train to wagon train, alone at the age of 65. Years later, he got into a beef with a neighbor, and, well, there were no Office of Neighborhood Involvement mediators back then to help work things out. Next thing you know he was being tried for allegedly killing the guy.
I'm not as up on my Oregon history as I should be. I read through Kimbark McColl's books on Portland when they came out decades ago, but a lot of it went in one eye and out the other. Lansing's book will surely get me back up to speed on the early days of the white man in our neck of the woods, and give me some interesting angles on law and civilization to think about.
But now that that's out of the way, let me tell you why this is such a great read: It's pure Ron. Every couple of pages or so, he drops in a sage observation that connects his story to a much larger truth. "It is one thing to pester government about its empty head," he writes, "but quite another to carp on its full heart." Introducing O'Kelly, he says, "There was more past than future in him, more memories than dreams." You hit one of these, and you have to smile. Ron has thought a lot of things all the way through. It's poetry amidst the history. Inspiring stuff.
At the rate of a few pages a night, it takes me forever to get through a book any more. With this one, that's a good thing. I'll be savoring every page.